For most of my author life, I have written mob capers. (Okay, there was that trilogy of ribald sexy fantasy that started my career, but surely that’s in my past. At least, that’s what I tell the priest.)
There have been seven of them. (Mob capers. Not priests.) An eighth will be coming, but in the meantime, my publisher wants me to write a cozy mystery. “You’re already writing comedy,” she said. “This is merely a different sub-genre. And cozies have a HUGE audience in the States.”
More than capers, she not so subtly pointed out.
I know about cozies. Some of my best friends write them. These are authors who can somehow do without sex, violence and profanity in their writing lives. My protagonists are not that sort of people, at least by choice, but I digress.
Thing is, if I was going to write cozies, I was going to have to clean up my language. It may come as a surprise, but mob caper characters don’t actually say, “Golly” and “Goodness me” when they get hit with a chunk of lead.
So as I embarked upon project clean-up, I pulled from my past, aka my dad’s side, which is firmly British. (As opposed to my mother’s side, which had bases in Sicily and The Hammer. ‘Nuf said.)
Most cursing in our house was Brit. I grew up on a steady diet of colourful West Country language.
However, this was a cozy, so I played it light. Even that didn’t work with my publisher.
The first word to go was Pits. “Pits!” Penelope yelled.
Publisher: “What is Pits? Nobody in the States will know what you mean. Use Rats.”
“Rats,” Penelope yelled, while closing the car bonnet.
That didn’t work. I tried again. It got worse.
Soon, ‘bloody’ and ‘bugger’ were off the table.
Me (throwing arms in the air): “I’m Canadian.”
“But they don’t know that,” she said, as if that were some sort of naughty secret we had to keep.
I retreated to Rats and Holy Cannoli.
But problems resurfaced quickly. “You’re a cow!” said Peter.
Publisher: “You can’t use cow. It sounds…”
Me: “Too trashy?”
Publisher: “Bestial. And with respect to the current scandals in Hollywood and DC…“
Me: “Gotcha. Not suitable for a cozy.”
It didn’t end there. Other phrases came under the knife. My whole vocabulary was at stake. Thing is, every non-naughty British expression seems to be…well…so much more expressive than the American equivalent.
“You filthy swine!” is much cooler than “You dirty pig!”
“Damn and blast!” really rocks it over “Darn and boom!”
It’s taken a long time and a lot of soul searching, but I may have come up with a solution to this whole cozy language problem. Something my publisher should be happy with, that isn’t a four letter word, and that shouldn’t offend the clergy. Not only that, it pretty well tells the tale.
“Curses!” said Penelope.
Melodie Campbell does her cursing south of Toronto. She was hardly ever a mob goddaughter, at least not recently. You can buy The Goddaughter and the rest of the series on Amazon.com and all the usual suspects.